Are we green?
A Fascinating Story of Change from Cattle Ranching to Conservation and Ecological Tourism.
Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge
Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge is an internationally known nature reserve with 330 hectares of protected area, including primary forest, secondary forest, selectively logged tropical wet forest, swamp forest, mangrove estuary, brush land, river bank and seashore. In addition, there are areas of tree farming with many different species of commercially viable timber, fruit orchards and pasture. This wide spectrum of habitats supports an equally large variety of wildlife. The reserve receives income with which to maintain and protect its natural treasure from only two sources: ecological tourism and tree farming.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Hacienda Barú was all virgin jungle. With the first wave of settlers came the destruction of large areas of rainforest. As more people migrated to the area, much more forest was cleared and pasture was planted. In 1972, when the aerial photo below was taken, only the large tract of rainforest on the upper portion of Hacienda Barú and a few scattered forest parcels in the lowlands were left untouched, about 180 hectares. By then many species of plants and animals had become locally extinct due to deforestation, habitat destruction and poaching. These included mammals such as the jaguar, tapir, white-lipped peccary, harpy eagle and scarlet macaw, and trees such as the manú negro and cedro bateo. The majority of the lowlands, about 150 hectares, were completely deforested and the land was used for rice farming and cattle ranching.
Hacienda Barú Today
Today dense secondary forest has grown up where cattle once roamed, leaving little evidence of the Hacienda’s former incarnation. The cacao plantations still exist, but today the cacao is harvested by the monkeys.
Areas of forest that were once islands of habitat, separated by open pastures, are now connected by the secondary forest that has grown up across the coastal plain. Wildlife can now roam freely throughout the reserve, and the sloths, pacas, peccary and curassows have found their way back into the lowlands after nearly four decades of absence.
Hacienda Barú now forms an active part of a large wildlife corridor initiative called “The Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor.” This ambitious project stretches from Los Santos National Forest Reserve down the Savegre River to Pacific coast and along the coast 100 km the Sierpe-Térraba Magrove system and the Corcovado National Park. Jaguar, tapir, white-lipped peccary and scarlet macaw disappeared from this area in the 1960s, but can still be found in Corcovado and Los Santos. It is our hope that one day we will see these animals reside on Hacienda Barú once again.
The path of the Tapir Biological Corridor initiative is a project of the Asociación de Amigos de la Naturaleza del Pacifico Central y Sur (ASANA), a local environmental organization that works for the protection of nature in this area. Hacienda Barú has given much support to ASANA over the years including the donation of a lot where the ASANA office is located.
Hacienda Barú Lodge and Ecotours
Hacienda Barú Lodge is a creation of the same people who restored natural habitat to 150 hectares of former pasture and farm land and is operated with the same philosophy of respect for nature and the environment. In addition to the restoration and protection of natural habitat, Hacienda Barú Lodge does many things to minimize its impact on the environment.
- The lodge occupies less than one percent of the 330 hectares of land that comprises Hacienda Barú.
- All of the wood used in construction and repair of the lodge and other constructions comes from renewable sources.
- No electricity is used to heat water in the tourist lodging. Instead it is heated by the sun’s energy in solar heaters.
- Almost all of the lighting is with LED bulbs.
- We do not use air conditioning anywhere. For cooling we depend on insulation in the ceiling, well ventilated design and fans.
- We monitor our consumption of electricity and constantly look for ways to economize.
- All organic waste is composted and used as fertilizer in the gardens.
- Waste water is treated in septic tanks with drain fields. Microorganisms are used to enhance the decomposition of solid waste in the septic systems.
- Everything that can be reused, paper, wood, building materials, etc. are used a second or third time for different things until they are completely deteriorated. For example, all office paper is used on both sides. Old wood removed from buildings is used on trails to form steps. Old roofing tin is used to cover signs.
- We ask tour clients to bring a water bottle which we will fill free of charge. This avoids buying bottled water and adding more plastic to the environment. We recycle all plastic bottles.
- All of our cleaning products are biodegradable.
- Dispensers of hand soap and bath soap help avoid waste.
- Clients have the option of using towels for a second or third day, a measure aimed at conserving water and lessening the amount of cleaning agents that go into the environment.
- Laundry is dried by the sun in a solar drier rather than with electric driers.
- At this time Hacienda Barú has 39 employees, all of whom are Costa Ricans. 34 of them grew up within 20 kilometers of Hacienda Barú and 5 came from other places in Costa Rica.
- Hacienda Barú has a policy of welcoming local school visits. Last year we received groups of students from 16 different elementary and secondary schools. At no cost to them, these groups receive a presentation about Hacienda Barú, its history, and the importance of protecting wildlife habitat. They go on a guided nature hike and visit the orchid garden and butterfly garden. During turtle season they visit the nursery. We try to coordinate the visits with the release of baby turtles. Those that wish to do canopy tours receive a special rate equal to one-third of the normal rate.
- Hacienda Barú management and employees are active in community affairs. They occupy leadership positions in local government, development associations, school boards, water associations, neighborhood security committees, and local environmental organizations. Additionally Hacienda Barú supports these community organizations with donations of cash and services.
- All products in the gift shop are Costa Rican and, when possible, purchased directly from the artisans.
- We do everything in our power to keep plastic out of the environment. In the restaurant we offer biodegradable straws to those who ask for them. Food to go is packed in boxes made of organic material. Bags in the gift shop are made of paper.